Austin Beutner will step down as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, he announced Wednesday, leaving the post as the nation’s second-largest school district begins reopening classrooms shuttered for a year by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I believe that it is fitting that a new superintendent should have the privilege of welcoming students back to school in the fall. I respectfully request that my contract end as planned on June 30,” Beutner said in a letter to the Board of Education.
“In the meantime, I will remain focused on the task of ensuring that schools reopen in the safest way possible while helping in a seamless leadership transition,” he wrote.
Beutner said his three years at the head of the 600,000-student district was “the most rewarding job I’ve held during my nearly 40-year career.”
The school board issued a statement praising Beutner’s “unwavering leadership during the extraordinary challenges” faced during the pandemic, when most students were restricted to remote learning.
The board said Beutner was instrumental in providing school district services, including COVID-19 tests and vaccinations to employees, distributing computers to provide Internet connectivity to virtually all students and giving away more than 120 million meals to students and families in need in the community.
Beutner, 61, didn’t indicate why he planned to resign.
His departure will mean LAUSD must search for a new leader while struggling to deal with campus re-openings. The board didn’t indicate who would temporarily replace him or when or how it would select a replacement, a process that can take months.
However, Beutner recommended choosing someone from within district administrative ranks.
Beutner, who had no direct school management experience, was appointed superintendent in May 2018.
His tenure was marked by a 2019 teachers strike. About 30,000 teachers walked out for six days, which ended in a contract that reduced class sizes and increased staffing of nurses and other staff.
But Beutner’s biggest challenge by far was school closures. He was given unprecedented emergency authority to deal with the pandemic.
The district closed schools for 393 days and only began a phased reopening last week. The initial reopening involves younger grades but will extend through high schools by the end of the month.
The reopening began after a massive improvement in air filtration systems, implementation of sanitizing and distancing protocols, and the creation of a system in which all students and staff undergo weekly testing starting before they return to campuses.
In his letter, Beutner listed what he considered the district’s achievements during his tenure. Among them were decentralizing central bureaucracy, increasing graduation rates to a record 81% last year and leading efforts to create what Beutner termed a “Marshall Plan” to increase school resources, resulting in $5 billion in additional state and federal resources over the next few years.
“It has been my privilege to contribute to work that reinforces one of the greatest achievements in human history: a free public education for every child,” he wrote.